1980s Sword-and-Sorcery Movie Posters

Sunday , 1, March 2020 9 Comments

The streaming service Tubi has a sword-and-sorcery movie section. Some of the movies I have never heard of. Others were prominent in the old video rental stores that sprang up in the middle and late 1980s. I have been watching some that I never caught the first time around while I get on the hamster wheel (i.e. Nordic Track).

Some of the movies have little to recommend themselves but many had great movie posters. I decided to put together a little figurative slide show of early and mid 1980s sword-and-sorcery movies. No doubt there will one or two that I forgot or someone will say you forgot this or that movie. Going by memory here.

The Pyschotronic Encyclopedia of Film says of Hawk the Slayer: “A sword-and-sorcery feature released too early to cash in on the craze, which didn’t get off the ground for another two years.” IMDB has a release date of December 1980. I don’t remember any advertisement for it at all. Flash Gordon is the movie that got all the buzz at this time. I do remember catching it on T.V. in 1982 on I think CBS’ late movie.

Excalibur came out next for the summer movie season in 1981. I caught it in college in winter 1982. A great looking movie. High fantasy or sword-and-sorcery? Either way, very unique in its look.

Dragonslayer is another movie from the summer of 1981. The movie has a certain cynical quality to it. And this poster is by Jeff Jones.

The movie that is the keystone to the whole 80s sword-and-sorcery movie era. This movie made Chip Rommel a star.

I reviewed the novelization last year. I know some who consider this to be more of a Robert E. Howard influenced movie than Conan the Barbarian.  This movie was contemporaneous at Conan the Barbarian in May 1982.

This movie got some publicity. I remember Tanya Roberts did a pictorial spread in Playboy magazine. Very loosely based on the novel by Andre Norton of the same name whose name is not on the poster. This movie was dumped on the market at the end of August 1982.

Now we get to 1983. I missed out on Fire and Ice as I went back to college right when it came out at the end of August. I just watched it again on Tubi last week. Possibly the greatest sword-and-sorcery movie ever made with characters by Frank Frazetta and story by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway. Poster by the great Frank Frazetta.

Deathstalker is incredibly bad in sets, costumes, acting, and fight choreography. It does have gratuitous nudity and violence. How did they get Boris Vallejo for the movie poster? IMDB said this movie was released in September 1983. I missed on this one but remember it well at the video rental stores.

Now we leapfrog to 1985. Conan the Destroyer from 1984 had a poster with a photograph of a buff, oiled Chip Rommel with his trademark shaved chest. No great movie art. His follow up, Red Sonja from summer 1985 had a return to the movie posters that were not far off from the typical paperback cover of the time.

I missed out on Deathstalker II from September 1987. More Boris art converted as movie poster. I remember seeing this on T.V. in the early 90s and liking the campiness of it.

I have not seen Deathstalker III which was released in June 1989. The big movie that about to be released was Tim Burton’s Batman. There was also the third Indiana Jones movie at that same time. Boris art yet again which appears to be the most consistent thing with the franchise.

There is some great art on some of these posters. Frazetta, Jones, and Boris got in on the action. Interestingly, no Rowena or Ken Kelly. By the time Red Sonja came out in 1985, the sword-and-sorcery movie craze was in rapid decline. Action movies were on the horizon and would replace the the genre. The sad part is the movies helped take down the genre in publishing which almost went extinct in 1985.

9 Comments
  • CroMagnonman says:

    Well there’s also Krull, of course, and Hearts & Armour, Hundra and – by the gods – Clash of the Titans and – God help us – Willow.
    The exercise in nostalgia with these 80s offerings is great even if the films themselves are anything but. There is usually some visual flourish to recommend them though whether it be in the disappearing fortress of Krull or the eyeball in the ring of Beastmaster. And the scrores are often terrific.

    I retain a fondness for these things for all their faults and silliness and still believe Marc Singer had the ultimate physical look for a credible barbarian hero.

    And I’m always game for taking a walk with Tanya Roberts, Kathleen Beller and Laurene Landon down mammary lane.

    • Emmett Fitz-Hume says:

      “Well there’s also Krull, of course, and Hearts & Armour, Hundra and – by the gods – Clash of the Titans and – God help us – Willow.”

      Krull is one of my all time favorites. And, I know it has problems but I can’t help it: I really enjoy Willow.

  • John E. Boyle says:

    I missed more of these than I had originally thought. I’ve never seen Red Sonja, Deathstalker 3 or Fire & Ice.

    Tubi, eh?

  • CroMagnonman says:

    And with hindsight I guess I also should have mentioned Ladyhawke and – gulp – Ator, The Fighting Eagle.

  • Fred Blosser says:

    For weal or woe, the releases from Roger Corman’s New Horizons/Concorde studio like the Deathstalker and Barbarian Queen movies and AMAZONS kept S&S cinema alive between the end of the KRULL/RED SONJA big-screen era and the advent of the Conan and Xena TV series in the late ’90s. Corman managed to string out the Deathstalker series into 1991 with DEATHSTALKER IV: MATCH OF THE TITANS. I actually saw the first DEATHSTALKER in a movie theater before (I think) New Horizons went completely DTV. Luckily, the New Horizons releases of the late ’80s and early ’90s were all over the video shelves at Erol’s and Video Vault. The first New Horizons pictures were filmed in Mexico, but DEATHSTALKER IV was made in Bulgaria.

  • Thomas Berna says:

    I heard about Hawk the Slayer in an issue of Cinefantastique that I bought new at a news stand. God, I’m old.

  • John Taylor says:

    Don’t forget Ironmaster, a direct to video Sword and Sorcery gem that might deserve a second look

  • Emmett Fitz-Hume says:

    The first S&S movie I ever saw was “Yor, the Hunter from The Future”.

    Yor’s World! He’s the man!

    I suspect that really colored my perception of these things. And I suppose Yor was more Sword and Laser, than Sword and Sorcery.

  • CroMagnonman says:

    I believe the reason that Andre Norton’s name isn’t on the Beastmaster poster is because she specifically asked for it not to be. To say that she was not impressed by the – ahem – “adaptation” would be putting it mildly. But given the choice of reading the book or watching the movie I know which one I’d plump for every time.

    The poster was the work of C Winston Taylor; a largely unheralded but prolific publicity artist of that period. The basic design was cribbed and copied for domestic markets around the globe and was even blatantly stolen for the Turkish poster of Hearts & Armour.

    In the UK the poster was completely different and was the work of Josh Kirby; an artist now synonymous with the covers of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books.

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